Monday, May 05, 2008

Monday del Musica!

Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Contrary to popular misconception, today is not Mexico's Independence Day, we just celebrate it in the US with a fervor similar to that of an independence day. I haven't been to a Cinco de Mayo celebration in years - probably a decade or more. In my tiny Texas burg, there's usually a cabrito cook-off at the town park. Or maybe a menudo cook-off. I choose to stay by my memory of a cabrito cook-off, as I cannot tolerate menudo, but find cabrito marvilloso.

Even though I'm half-Mexican, grew up in Texas and spent my teen years in a bi-cultural small town in the border area, I really don't know much by way of Mexican, Tejano or Mexican-inspired music. My Mexican side of the family never played or passed on music, so I didn't get any input from them. And what little I knew of Mexican -inspired music was from the teeny-boppers in school who were crazy in love with Selena (when she was alive, long before her ghost made her visible to gringos). So, for the last week or so, I've been trying to catch myself up to speed on the music of my people. Here's some stuff I found:

note: I'm sure you can count and are saying to yourself, "why are you calling this mixtape 'cinco por el cinco' when there are clearly seven tracks here?" The short answer is: I found too much good stuff for La Llorona (details later), so I'm counting the three versions as one entry.

1. La Charreada - Linda Ronstadt. Kudos to Ms. Ronstadt for bringing some mariachi to the mainstream back in the 80s. I'm ambivalent about the singer herself, but I've always loved this stuff. She did a few episodes of Sesame Street and in one of them, she sang this song with some muppets. A toddler I used to part-time nanny would "aaahhh" along with her whenever she'd hit those long verse-introductory wails. It cracked me up.

2. Kiko and the Lavender Moon - Los Lobos. Most people know Los Lobos as the band that sang "La Bamba" for the Ritchie Valens biopic. Lou Diamond Phillips lip-synched to them. (Incidentally, "La Bamba" is a traditional Mexican tune - and dance - for which I cannot find a decent traditional recording.) However, I always associate this song with them for reasons unknown. I like its lackadais with a little picante flowing through.

3. Jay Perez - Sabes. I know nothing about this performer. I decided I needed to include Tejano, so I visited the site for the Tejano Music Awards. This guy was the performer of the year this past award season. Frankly, this song sounds like sappy crap to me. "Te necessito mas que'l aire; Te necessito mas que'l agua," (I need you more than air; I need you more than water): I remember many of my schoolmates listening to stuff like this back in the day. This is the kind of teen idol they'd swoon over the same way the chickies fawn over the Jonas Brothers. But I added it because it definitely reminds me of Texas - and shopping in the latino areas of Houston.

4. Somos Mas Americanos - Los Tigres del Norte. Los Tigres del Norte are pretty well-known in the Mexican-American music world and I remember hearing them some, growing up. I just learned they're from L.A., so I don't know if they count as Tejano, but boy do they sound it. I guess lots of border music share common influences. This one I grabbed at random, but started listening a bit to the lyrics. This is great, it seems to be - if my broken Spanish is worth anything - an angry repudiation of anti-Mexican (immigrant?) sentiment in the States. "somos mas americanos que'l hijo del anglo-saxon," "we are more American than the son of the anglo-saxon." Then they go on to sing about how mezclados (euro/indian mixed race "la raza") were here along the border region and in the west long before Manifest Destiny. Rock on.

5. La Llorona - Elliot Goldenthal and various artists. This is the style of this song I'm more familiar with. This is the style we'd hear at Cinco de Mayo fests or Mexican Independence Day festivals. La Llorona tells the folk tale of the wailing woman - a ghost who haunts the land looking for her dead children.

6. La Llorona - Lila Downs. I would've included just this, but it cuts off and wanted to include a whole version, above. This is a version I want to purchase, soon. It's so bloody mournful and thick. It evokes the terror of the legend and it empathizes with her grief as well. Excellent.

7. La Llorona - Ginna Allison. This must be part of some sort of Public Radio anthology, because when I Googled Ginna Allison, I discovered she does Soundprint pieces as well as other Public Radio stories. This piece on La Llorona reminded me of when I first heard of her. I didn't know the full story until I was in college (apparently, this tale may have roots in Mexican Indian legends). But when my family moved from the very white, very Baptist Panhandle to the much more bi-cultural, bi-lingual and heavily Catholic town in Southwest Texas, I began to learn more folklore. And it wasn't just La Llorona - who scared the shit out of my 12 year old self - it was the tale that when God kicked Satan out of Heaven, he landed on the very spikey mountain near town - the one created by the erosion of an ancient volcano, that looked like a perfectly creepy pyramid. There were other modern legends, like that of Bunny-man: an angry drunk was killed by an on-coming train on the tracks. It left him dead and legless. His red-eyed ghost hobbled around on his knuckles so he had the locomotion of a bunny. If you crossed those tracks at midnight, his ghost would chase you, and if he caught you, he'd get to keep your soul! Eek! I digress, but I loved this radio piece because 1) I love folkore and 2) it jostled the pre-teen in me and spooked her out!


JoeinVegas said...

Wait a minute - you skipped over the biggest reason Americans have taken to Cinco de Mayo - the cervesa.

mommanator said...

Mexican- I had an exchange student that is Mexican- I learned so much about Mexican culture from him, plus he enlightened me to the music- I love it! When I hear it I start to dance-be glad you don't have your camera tuned to me!

Anonymous said...

I'd forgotten all about Cinco de Mayo, no-one knows about it over here. But you brought back some great memories of drinking cervesa in a Mexican bar in DC last year. Mmm.